The look on Gary Kubiak’s face toward the end of the second half said it all.
The Denver Broncos head coach wasn’t yelling, nor was he was he throwing a Jim Harbaugh-esque tantrum. Instead, Kubiak stood on the sideline silently shaking his head.
Minutes earlier, Broncos quarterback Mark Sanchez had coughed up his second fumble of the first half. That came after Trevor Siemian, the second-year player competing against Sanchez for the starting QB spot, committed a turnover of his own — a pick-6.
The look on Kubiak’s face wasn’t one of rage; it was more like that “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed” look one of your parents probably gave you in high school.
Siemian and Sanchez combined for three turnovers as the Broncos lost to the San Francisco 49ers 31-24. Of those two numbers, the first should scare the hell out of you, and the second is rather inconsequential. Neither Siemian nor Sanchez did much to separate themselves from the pack. Instead, with only two preseason games remaining, the Broncos’ quarterback picture is murkier than ever, with rookie Paxton Lynch now looming as the potential Week 1 starter.
Siemian started the game Saturday, and he wasn’t bad at first. He led the Broncos on a 10-play, 86-yard opening drive that produced a touchdown. He did a nice job dealing with pressure, displaying nice timing with receivers and generally looking poised as he went 5-for-6 on the first possession that running back C.J. Anderson capped with an 18-yard score.
But at the start of the second quarter on second-and-16, Siemian stared down his receiver for what felt long enough to make a microwavable meal. 49ers safety Eric Reed read Siemian’s eyes and took the interception back for six. Siemian got one more drive after the pick-6 and looked shook, overthrowing receivers on consecutive throws.
Sanchez entered the game with 11:10 to go in the second quarter and was even worse. He showed great touch on a crossing route to Jordan Norwood, then promptly followed that up with a completely avoidable fumble.
The Denver defense got the ball right back, recovering a fumble of their own. On the Broncos’ ensuing possession, Sanchez fumbled once again — the second one he lost in Broncos’ field-goal range in as many possessions.
Sanchez has played a little more than two quarters of preseason football now, and has committed three turnovers if you count the pick against the Bears. That’s pretty consistent with how his career has gone. In 75 regular-season games, he’s thrown 84 picks and fumbled 51 times.
The performances by Siemian and Sanchez seem to have left the door open for Lynch to start against Carolina on Sept. 8.
Lynch was clearly the best QB Saturday. He wasn’t terribly efficient — going 15-for-26 for 113 yards — but he threw for two scores and did a nice job of protecting the football. He threw a game-ending interception over the middle that reserve wideout Bralon Addison easily could’ve caught.
What stood out about Lynch compared to Denver’s other quarterbacks were two things: His arm strength and his ability to extend plays. Lynch, at 6-foot-7, showed that he can put zip on the ball with several nice throws along the sideline. He also has a nice feel for keeping plays alive. This was a good example:
So was Lynch’s eight-yard dart to John Phillips in the third quarter that produced a touchdown.
Toward the end of the game, NBC broadcaster and former Broncos safety John Lynch openly wondered if we’d see Lynch get a chance to play alongside the starters next weekend against the Rams.
After what we saw from him compared to what we saw from Sanchez and Siemian, Kubiak might not have much of a choice. Lynch has played himself into contention for the starting job right off the bat, in part because of his own performance, and in part because Sanchez nor Siemian just haven’t seized it.